It’s been a long seven years since team members on the Black Mesa: Source website announced their intention to bring gamers Half-Life with Half-Life 2 graphics. By 2009 (the longtime-announced release date), there was still no sight of HD headcrabs and it seemed we were not going to ever see them. Then, earlier this month, developers announced the release date for the first half of the game. Can this fan-made mod live up to the hype of the genius that was, and still is, Half-Life?
What Is It?
When Half-Life was released in 1998, it was praised and hailed for its interactive environment and innovative gaming experience. Many reviewers exclaim that it isn’t just the best game of the year, but the best game of all time. Since its release, there have been many expansions, collectibles and and even a huge fanbase. Even with all this positive response, the one failing of the title was its graphics and texture quality.
This is what sparked the interest of two teams, LeakFree and Half-Life: Source Overhaul Project, to revamp the title with the Source engine and update its visuals to that of its highly-developed sequel. When all this began in 2004, the two teams didn’t even know each other. Through discussions on the Half-Life2.net forums, the teams merged and announced the initiation of development for the project.
By 2008, the second trailer was released with the final scene showing “2009,” hinting that the release date was coming in the next year. Well, 2009 came and went with no sign of this anticipated title and many fans gave up on ever seeing it completed. From then up to early 2012, Black Mesa had acquired many honorable mentions in gaming industries’ vaporware of the year awards, but never acquired that title for itself. And it certainly won’t ever since the release of the first half of the game on Sept. 14, 2012. But now we have to decide if the development team fulfilled what they promised …
Why Should I Care?
Before you even acquire the iconic crowbar, your mind will have already been blown away numerous times by the amount and extent of detail that went into this upgrade of an already mind-blowing game. First, they didn’t just create a brick-for-brick copy of the original environment so if you think you’ve got the facility memorized by heart, think again. Though they did keep the memorable scenes for those who’ve run through the game many times, like overcooking a certain co-worker’s microwave meal. They’ve even included achievements tailored to those memories. One involves that first trip into the locker/bathroom where the player interacts with the stall and, upon finding it occupied, retrieves a roll of toilet paper for them. The important events in the game, even before the battle to survive, are honored, but the change of the overall layout can provide the veteran player a feeling of newness to an older title.
Not satisfied with just an update of graphics, the development team also implemented many gameplay features from Half-Life 2 into Black Mesa. Many gamers, including myself, wondered where Dr. Kleiner, Dr. Vance and Barney fit into the Black Mesa environment when we met and had much more interaction with them in Half-Life 2. A quick replay through Half-Life in search of them will only result in scientists and security guards that look the same and share the same voice actor. Black Mesa, however, provides many different versions of NPCs, including a few female scientists. You’ll encounter the three aforementioned people with the updated visuals and voice actors from the sequel. You’ll even get a chance to see Dr. Kleiner’s first encounter with a headcrab and witness his instant enchantment with the creature that leads to his future pet headcrab, Lamarr.
Another implementation of Half-Life 2 into its predecessor’s revamp is the method of using flares to set zombies on fire, which was initiated in Half-Life 2 during the player’s shortcut through the zombie-infested streets of Ravenholm. The flares don’t actually appear in the environment until after the explosion, but once you see them, you’ll try to remember where you’ve seen them before. Or, if you’re new to the series, what you could possibly use a flare for inside an underground facility. For both cases, you’ll know instantly what that flare is for once you hear and see a bumbling zombie heading your way.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
First of all, you only need to determine this game’s worth in reference to your own time. The game is free to download, but you’ll need to also download Steam’s Source SDK Base 2007, which is also free. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the series or are jumping into it new, Half-Life is a game that altered the future of first-person shooters and should be on every gamer’s list of “Games you must play before you die.” It’s understandable that those who’ve never played Half-Life go into it with all this praise about it and are often disappointed to see the square-headed scientists and blurry textures. This is why Black Mesa is such an ideal fix for the one problem recognized in the first title of the series.
What also makes this title a worthy investment is its replay value. The team at Black Mesa: Source provided the game with a cosmetic upgrade plus more, but the story, immersive gameplay and overall environment of the title makes it worth playing multiple times, both the original and the revamp. There are a multitude of little easter eggs included in Black Mesa that may require a few visits to hunt them all down. For those who know and love the series, the slight change in environment will provide a fresh gaming experience while you eagerly await key events to occur as you progress through the story.
Lastly, the game isn’t over when you finish this mod. Remember, this is only the first half of the complete game and when the second half is released, the developers will also be releasing Black Mesa: Deathmatch for multiplayer gaming. If this title entices you for more, feel free to take on the sequel title, Half-Life 2, and its following episodic titles to fulfill your headcrab-crushing appetite. Then you can join the rest of us as we wait for the third and final episode of this amazing franchise’s story.